5km travel limit is 'bordering on ridiculous', Taoiseach told

The 5km travel restriction and the ban on outdoor sports came in for particular criticism, with TDs urging the Taoiseach to ease restrictions next week
5km travel limit is 'bordering on ridiculous', Taoiseach told

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was met with stinging criticism of the Government’s 5km travel limit, and calls for outdoor sports to be allowed to recommence at a private meeting of his party.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was met with stinging criticism of the Government’s 5km travel limit, and calls for outdoor sports to be allowed to recommence at a private meeting of his party.

There are just days to go before the planned easing of restrictions next Tuesday but there are concerns that any changes may not go far enough.

The parliamentary party was meeting in the wake of confirmation of 18 deaths and 683 new cases of the virus, and further concerns from health officials about the rising number of social contacts. 

Nphet also postponed its planned meeting, due to take place on Wednesday, to Monday, where it will discuss the restrictions.

There is mounting pressure within Fianna Fáil regarding some of the Covid-19 restrictions, with several senior TDs and senators lashing out.

“The 5km limit is bordering on ridiculous,” Mayo senator Lisa Chambers told the meeting.

Dublin Bay South TD Jim O’Callaghan also called for the 5km limit to be scrapped. He also stressed outdoor activity included non-team sports like golf and tennis should be allowed recommence.

“The public will support Covid restrictions that make sense; the 5k should be got rid of,” he said. 

“Outdoor sport should be allowed, and a road map with dates should be published since we will be in a much better position in second quarter."

Junior Minister Niall Collins and Clare Senator Timmy Dooley also called for a full lifting of travel restrictions and also sought for outdoor activities to be allowed.

According to sources at the meeting, both said they were not calling for a re-opening of indoor dining at present.

Cork North Central TD Pádraig O’Sullivan called for a common-sense approach to the travel restrictions

He said: “If they're contemplating increasing the 5km restriction to 10 km or 20km then that's fine for urban areas but for larger counties and rural areas increasing to 10km or 20km won't essentially mean much of a difference.”

He also spoke about how not utilising rapid antigen testing to compliment any reopening “would be a missed opportunity”.

Offaly TD Barry Cowen asked the Taoiseach whether he still believed the end of June vaccination targets are still achievable. He said it will be “very disappointing” if they cannot be reached.

Responding, Mr Martin said by mid-April, we will have most over 70s getting their first vaccine and by mid-May their second dose which is good progress as we scale up the rollout in the second quarter.

He said he expects 250,000 doses next week and every week and recommitted to having 80% of adults vaccinated by end of June.

He told his TDs that progress is fragile and we need to avoid speculation. A comprehensive and coherent announcement will be made next week on the period ahead.

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told his party it was a definite cause for concern that Covid cases numbers have started to rise again.

Mr Varadkar gave a detailed presentation of the vaccine roll out to his party representatives amid concern about stalling infection rates.

Ahead of next week’s Government decision on health restrictions, the Tánaiste said case numbers, the R number, hospital and critical cases, and the vaccine programme will have to be taken into account before deciding what happens from April 5 on.

Mr Varadkar said some restrictions would be eased which would see some low-risk outdoor activities return, noting that it is needed for people and their mental health.

He said schools staying open were the current focus.

Earlier in the Dáil, there was strong criticism of the EU's vaccine procurement process from TDs.

It comes as the bloc moved to make it more difficult to export vaccines to countries with large amounts of supply.

The EU is currently producing vaccines and then exporting them while struggling to vaccinate their own population.

Former Labour leader Brendan Howlin said: "It should never have reached this point. A failure of procurement, a slowness in authorisation and a communication strategy that has painted the most generous of national blocs as vaccine grabbers."

Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that five walk-in Covid testing centres will open in areas where Covid transmission has been high.

From today, four centres will open in Dubin - the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown, the Grangegorman Primary Care Centre car park, Tallaght Stadium and Irishtown Stadium.

The fifth will be at the Tullamore Leisure Centre in Co Offaly.

The temporary centres will allow people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 to get a free test without having to contact their GP first.

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